Ice, Ice, Baby

Flipping through the pages of innumerable baking catalogs that all feature the same immaculately clean kitchens, state-of-the-art appliances, and flawlessly decorated cookies, even a five-year old could tell you that these images are all fake. Staged, meticulously constructed down to the very last crumb; Those cookies that look so incredible on the page could even plastic, for all we know! So why is it that despite the knowledge of this visible lie, I always work myself up into a frenzy, trying to recreate those impossibly perfect sweets? Because when a theme so powerfully tied to the season and holiday nostalgia keeps popping up, taunting me with my lack of decorating skills, well… If for no other reason, it’s because I want to prove to myself that I can too decorate like the best of them.

Of course, my results fall far below that standard, but I think I’m finally making some progress in this field. To be perfectly honest, I’ve never actually tried icing cookies quite like this before, choosing instead to just slap different colors of goopy sugar all over dry cookies instead. That being said, I would love to give other wannabe cookie artists 10 small tips that would have been helpful to know before I got started myself! It was a long process of trial and error, but I think that there are some important lessons to be learned here, starting with…

1. Go big or go home. If you’re going to go all out and make intricately decorated cookies, don’t plan on making a million little morsels to stack up on a plate as gifts. Instead, make just one or two bigger cookies for each person you want to treat. It will make the cookies all the more special, not to mention create a whole lot less work for you.

2. Quality tools matter. Yes, you already know this, but it bears repeating. If you don’t already have some basic metal tips and disposable pastry bags, BUY THEM. Consider it a holiday gift to yourself! I start out using a wimpy little plastic sandwich baggie, hoping to save my quickly dwindling supply of pastry bags, but I was paid back for my cheating ways quickly- The bag burst before I finished decorating even a single cookie, and a good portion of the table, floor, and myself were covered in sticky sugar icing.

3. K.I.S.S: Keep it simple, stupid. The point of going all out for intricately iced cookies is to impress your friends and loved ones with incredible patterns, but if the whole design starts to go awry, simplify. Fill in open shapes that are bleeding too much, do fewer lines if they don’t end up fitting, but whatever you do, don’t panic. Additionally, I would suggest starting out with easier patterns to begin with until you get the hang of it. Worst comes to worst, you’ll get a couple of ugly but tasty cookies to snack on while you work.

4. Know before you go. You’re raring to go, excited to get started, but put on the the brakes for just a minute and think about what you’re doing. Have a picture in your mind of what you want the finished cookie to look like so you don’t end up becoming a deer in the headlights with icing dripping all over the place. Envision the final outcome as a guide to your design, but don’t be afraid to change it up as you go along, too.

5. Let it flow. If you’re squeezing the bejebus out of our pastry bag to get a thin stream of icing, STOP, before you put someone’s eye out with a blob of projectile frosting! You should only need to apply gentle pressure to the bag while twisting the extra plastic above the icing mass so that it doesn’t spurt out the top. After decorating for a while, the icing will begin to harden and gunk up the tip, so make sure you keep a sewing needle or paper clip nearby to poke it clean.

6. Ice away. No, I don’t mean “just go ice the darn things already,” I mean, ice away from your body. I don’t know about you, but when there’s a giant pastry bag headed straight for me, I can’t see a darn thing around it; For all I know, I could be icing the table! Stop and turn the cookie if you have to, but always make sure move the bag outwards in order to clearly see your full shape and the path you want the icing to follow.

7. Keep it up. Moving in between lines and switching over to different areas of the cookie, make sure to turn the bag of icing so that the tip is pointed upwards. Otherwise, the icing will continue to dribble all over your finished work, and everything else in a 5-foot radius. Trust me on this one.

8. Start at the beginning. Personally, I always like to start by tracing the outline of my cookie, just so I can get a better idea of the shape in the first place. Sometimes the baking process will cause the cookies to spread and distort a bit, so it helps to see exactly what shape you’re working with here.

9. Take your time. I didn’t have any cookie cutters here at school with me, so I ended up doing an extra step- Sculpting each and every cookie by hand (They always say that no two snowflakes are alike…) which means it took me even longer to finish. All said and done, from cutting to baking to decorating, it took me three hours to complete one dozen cookies. I know, it’s a little bit crazy… But with the help of cookie cutters, I bet you can shave a good hour, hour and a half off of that. Just don’t plan anything time-sensitive afterwards, okay?

10. Have fun with it. Don’t stress out, this is is supposed to be an enjoyable, relaxing project after all! But you knew that I was going to say that, right?

While I certainly didn’t attain the level of perfection displayed by “professionals,” I’m still quite proud of my end results. Don’t forget, you can also go crazy with color if you so choose- My limited supply of kitchen staples left me without dyes, so I just went with a simple, elegant while. It’s all up to you… So now go forth and ice those cookies! Just don’t blame me for the mess that may follow.

43 thoughts on “Ice, Ice, Baby

  1. Thanks for the tips! In the past, my lack of patience and my intense need for perfection have crippled my cookie decorating attempts. I’ll be brave again some day.

  2. Since I’ve never iced, frosted, or garnished baked good before, you have NO idea how useful and helpful these tips are!! Thank you, thank you, thank you!! And I must say, you’ve certainly mastered the art of icing baked goods, in my eyes :0)

  3. Wow, cutting out all those cookies must have been a pain without cutters. This was a great post, Hannah! A little different than the norm for you and much more personal, I think. Allowing us a peak into the trials you encountered, sharing your learned tips, and even allowing us to share your frustration along the way made this a much more personal post. I really enjoyed it and felt at times I was in the kitchen with you. :) Nice work. Oh, and the cookies came out lovely too! :)

  4. You sculpted those cookies yourself? I’d say you were well above some of the ‘professionals’ out there. They they so adorable and most importantly- they look so yummy. As a matter of fact, before I read the whole paragraph, I thought that cookie came from a magazine.

    I, too, am beginning the journey of professional decorating of all things baked. I even starting looking into fondant. It’s rare one ever sees fancy shmancy vegan cakes!

    I just bought some awesome icing tips and I can’t wait to use them! Thanks so much for sharing some helpful tips and hints. =)

  5. Hi Hannah,
    My name is Nancy Quist and I made and decorated the 3-D Chocolate Gingerbread reindeer and sleigh that appear on our blog We received a comment on this posting from you, but it was garbled and didn’t make any sense, so we deleted it. Curious about you, I clicked to your blog and saw this posting. I’m not sure if you were trying to say my 3D cookies were plastic or not, but I can assure you they most definitely are real and I even posted the chocolate gingerbread recipe from which they are made. In fact, the entire decoration of that particular display only took about 5 minutes. They are really, really easy to do with royal icing. If you’d like more info on how to make them, just let me know. They are cute beyond words.

  6. Those are absolutely beautiful!! They certainly look professional to me :-) Thanks so much for the icing tips. I think sometimes I dive in and don’t think about what I’m doing enough.

  7. I can do the ‘immaculately clean kitchens, state-of-the-art appliances’ no problem, but icing is a whole different game. Your cookies look great and are super-stylish – wonderful work Hannah! Thank you so much for sharing the icing tips too. I may just brave the piping bag one more…

  8. As someone who works on the set of many kitchen catalogues, I can tell you- they have FOOD STYLISTS! There’s typically 2 or more people in charge of making the food for photos & boy, do they bring a ton of ingredients & spend a lot of time! I can’t tell you how many times production is stopped up because the stylist is still fussing with or making the food!

    Your cookies look awesome & the tips are great! I never thought about frosting away from the body- der!

  9. Great looking cookies. I would love to know what recipe you used for the cookies. We’re in the decision phase of what cookies to make as gifts this year and yours look yummy!

  10. You are kidding right? You cut these out by hand?
    Oh the modesty… I believe there will be some “professionals” spying on these tips!

  11. Thanks so much for these tips- I’d be happy if my cookies came out anywhere as pretty as yours. I think you’ve achieve magazine cookie perfection! Hmmmm. Now I’m tempted to go bake some cookies, but it’s pretty late at night…

  12. You don’t give yourself enough credit! These are so professional looking! I get aggravated after 2…funny how I can have the patience to make, roll, cut and mold for hours but not for cookies.
    Absolutely beautiful!

  13. Aww great tips! And YES disposable icing bags are the shiz! I learned to really really really appreciate them when I worked at a bakery this summer. Your cookies look lovely! I’d feel honored to eat a cookie as beautiful as those!

  14. This are truly beautiful cookies. See, you can and did make some beautiful cookies without the $35,000 kitchen. hehe. The wintery looking white on white table cloth was a truly inspired photographic background for you lovely cookies.

  15. Those are great tips. Your cookies look absolutely beautiful. I can’t believe you did that without cookie cutters. Get on with your bad self.

  16. I do that too, kill myself to recreate a picture of a plastic cookie made in a pretend kitchen. Thank’s for giving me prespective.

  17. What beautiful cookies! You should see what happens when I decorate–it looks like a 3 year-old did it :) Maybe with the help of your tips and tricks and a little patience, this will be the year where I learn how to decorate good cookies, though!

  18. Your cookies shouldn’t even be called cookies, they’re spectacular! Every year I exhaust myself with from scratch gingerbread houses….the doggies even end up with flour and sugar on them! I’ll easily be able to implement some of your techniques. Terrific job!

  19. RE: comment #5, seems they don’t have a lot of comments anyway. No clue why they’re plugging their own blog on yours. Have a good one, you rock!

  20. I don’t know why you don’t think your cookies turned out fabulous… because they are–FABULOUS! I am most impressed with your steady hand. I never seem to be able to go more than 2 or 3 inches without a major squiggle.

    You are a constant source of inspiration.

  21. I was wondering if you were willing to share your icing recipe? I want to bring vegan gingerbread cookies and icing to a Christmas Eve at my boyfriend’s house (I am Jewish and need something to entertain myself).
    Thanks :)

    Your cookies are gorgeous byt the way!

  22. Hannah, your cookies are amazing. I’m planning to make vegan gingerbread cookies next week. You’re an inspiration. I hope mine turn out as nice as yours.

  23. Oh, how I wish I would have read this before I tried to make some cookies!! I’m planning on trying them again, though – and this is an extremely informative post!!

  24. Your icing tutorial and tips came in very handy, Hannah, when I had a go at making some snowflake cookies for the first time.

    Thank you.

  25. This is a great post Hannah…love the attention to detail & the bit by bit tutorial. I enjoy icing cookies a lot, & KISS is my mantra too…having learnt the hard way once…LOL!! Have a great hoilday season!

Leave a Reply